My new job at NPR

December 2nd, 2014

I have a new job. I’m now the Senior Director, Product Strategy & Development for NPR Digital Services.

I’ll be based in Boston (just down the road from my old Boston.com haunts), but I’ll be spending a lot of time in Washington and skipping around the country.

What will I be doing?

I’m going to be working mostly with the member stations, the NPR affiliates around the country. These are the stations like WGBH and WBUR in Boston and WNYC in New York. I’m working with them on their web and digital-audio products, including streaming and podcasts. I’ll also be working very closely with NPR.org.

Why am I doing this?

I believe in the mission of public media, and I think our distributed network of journalists, technologists and engaged citizens can do great things.

What does this mean for my other projects?

I’ll spend more time writing, and less time programming.

I’m likely sunsetting Serendeputy at some point in the next six months, and I’m putting my other projects on hiatus. I’ll still be futzing around with ideas, but I’ll do them here on JPButler.com.

I may end up open-sourcing some of the code I’ve written, especially the crawler and classifier applications.

I’m still pretty easy to find. You can follow me @jpbutler on Twitter, my main email address is jason@ this domain, and my npr.org email address is jbutler@.

I’m selling some domains

November 28th, 2014

I think my land-speed record is 37 seconds.

It took 37 seconds from thinking “Hey, OODAdo.com would be a pretty cool domain for tools around helping people more quickly design and navigate OODA loops” to going to Dreamhost to seeing if the domain was available to buying the domain.

37 seconds.

It’s a sickness.

Not a huge sickness, as these things go, though. It’s $10/year for a domain, and I own maybe 40 or so of them across all my interests. I can justify that as career development. Plus, it’s a business expense.

But now, I’m cleaning out my closet, and am looking to sell many of these domains. Here’s what I have up for grabs.

These are all domains you could build a brand around.

Docfu.com is great for any type of knowledge management. I had this as the placeholder domain for the next generation of Serendeputy.

Grawgo.com was originally a rough acronym for “Green as we go”.

Oodado.com is a play on OODA loops.

Freenon.com and Paynon.com are complements for an idea I was exploring around forkable nuggets of knowledge.

Nooler.com had no specific idea beyond “New + Butler”.

Manalgo.com is an idea I had around exploring the combinations of human (Man) and computer (algo) intelligence.

BostonProd.com and BostCTO.com were both domains that I planned to use as sites supporting my consulting business. It turns out they weren’t necessary, but they could be useful to a consultant, publisher or thought leader in Boston.

Awesomier.com and Menschier.com were both working off a (now-abandoned) idea around improving my personal habits.

Tweetazon.com is a simple idea around compiling and organizing all the Amazon links coming through my Twitter feed. I have a rough version of this idea up on TweetDeputy.

IMIFT.com was for a parenting site called “In my infinite free time.”

UFAWS.com was for a content site that talked about tools that are “useful, friendly and wicked smart.”

If you’re interested in doing something useful with any of these domains, please drop me a line at jason@ this domain. Otherwise, I’m going to put them up on Sedo in January to see if they will sell at auction.

AMC Theaters, assigned seats and going to movies in your 40s

November 26th, 2014

A. and I are old. (Ok, “older”). At this point in our 40s, we’re not in the prime demographics for any media other than Downton Abbey.

We still like to watch movies, though. We’ve worked hard this year to see a movie every Saturday night. We have charts of our progress, and the points of data make a beautiful line.

Most of the time, this is via Netflix DVDs. I actively manage the queue (recent items: Her, Gremlins and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure), and we block off time in our shared calendar. Each Saturday night as the clock strikes 7, the girls are put to bed, the wine is poured, the cats are comfortable, and we watch the movie.

That said, we still like to see movies in the theaters (it’s useful to still be culturally relevant occasionally), though this happens less often as the years have gone by.

Why? The logistics are painful. We have to get a babysitter (we can generally pull this together every six weeks or so), and then we need to fight the crowds, hope that we can get into the movie, fight for seats, etc. The friction keeps us away.

So, for the past few years, we’ve very rarely seen any movies in their first few weeks in the theater. There’s no way we’re going near the cineplex for opening weekend of The Avengers. We’ll see it four weeks later (all the while desperately trying to avoid spoilers).

But last Saturday night we saw Mockingjay on opening weekend at our local theater, AMC in Burlington. Without wanting to kill ourselves.

What changed?

AMC has started having assigned seats. This one change will make them a couple of hundred extra dollars a year from my family.

The Jobs to Be Done are pretty clear for me: amuse me for a couple of hours; spend some couple time with A.; don’t annoy me; and don’t cause extra cognitive overhead.

The biggest pain for me is the uncertainty. Will I be able to get a ticket? Will we be able to get decent seats together? Will it be a wasted trip?

Advance ticketing solved the sellout problem. Advance seat selection solved the seating problem. There is no chance that it will be a wasted trip. They have minimized my cognitive overhead, and — bonus — given us extra time to actually enjoy our dinner, as opposed to just wolfing it down.

AMC may even be getting a price premium, I really don’t know. In the context of a night out with a babysitter at home, the difference between a $10 ticket and a $15 ticket is negligible.

I’m glad to see businesses competing by upping their game as opposed to trying to nickel and dime, cut costs and optimize for “how crappy can we make the experience without driving everyone away.”

Good for AMC. We’ll be giving them more money soon.

Linky Goodness, 9/5/14 edition

September 5th, 2014

Yes, folks, it’s the long-awaited return of linky goodness. I’ve been putting a lot of thought into how to manage personal publishing, and I think I have a plan. We’ll see how it works through September, and then we’ll adjust.

For now, here are some links from the past week or so that have caught my eye.

Business Geekery

The secret world of fast fashion. I’ll always be an Operations Management geek — logistics stories are the best.

The 1099 wars

There’s an ugly showdown coming along in the 1099 wars. From Scott Kirsner in the Globe: In the sharing economy, a rift over worker classification and from The Information (subscription required): Court ruling on contractors a red flag for on-demand services.

Media Geekery

The Globe has launched Crux, a new site focusing on Catholic issues. It’ll be interesting to see how much traction a single-focus site can get. If it succeeds, I look forward to seeing media companies cranking these out.

Or maybe not. Sports on Earth died an unpleasant death.

Social Issues

National Geographic has done a fantastic feature on why people are malnourished in the richest country on earth. Now’s as good a time as any to contribute to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Our Coming Robot Overlords

Will a Google car sacrifice you for the good of the many? The ethical implications here are fascinating. We trust police officers, doctors, firefighters with this power; can we trust algorithms?

The future of robot labor is the future of capitalism.

Meta

If you want to see most of these as I come across them, you should follow me (@jpbutler) on Twitter. My TweetDeputy application will also handily pull together all the links I’ve tweeted (along with all the links from everyone I follow).

If you have any suggestions, please drop me a line or send me a tweet.

Patriots and NFL websites and podcasts

September 4th, 2014

It's one of the happiest times of the year: NFL kickoff weekend. The Red Sox are having a tough year, and the Patriots are coming around at just the right time.

I’m a news geek (and a bit of an information junkie — of course, I eat my own dog food, so I’m a heavy user of Serendeputy’s New England Patriots page…)).

Beyond that, here’s how I’m keeping track of the Pats and the league this year. Have fun, and Go Pats!

Websites

Christopher Price leads WEEI’s coverage. On the radio, I love the Sunday morning show with Dale Arnold and his brethren. It’s the best companion when raking the leaves.

Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston is always on top of things.

Boston.com Patriots pulls together the Boston.com coverage. The Globe is paywalled.

The Patriots subreddit has a reasonably clueful set of commenters.

Pro Football Talk aggregates news from around the league. The commenters leave something to be desired. Here is the direct link to the Patriots stories.

The MMQB has excellent league-wide coverage. As does Grantland. Deadspin is often entertaining. They even let us know why the Patriots suck.

Podcasts

I listen to 2-3 hours of podcasts a day — in the car, on the trail or puttering around the house. These are my football favorites.

Ross Tucker Football Podcast. Ross Tucker (a former offensive lineman for the Patriots, among other teams) has an outstanding daily show during the season.

ESPN Football Today is ESPN’s daily football podcast, with Robert Flores and Matt Williamson.

Grantland NFL Podcast is Grantland’s football podcast, with Robert Mays and Bill Barnwell.

PFW in Progress is the podcast from Patriots Football Weekly, which is affiliated with the Patriots themselves. This is the closest of any of these podcasts to having the “hanging out with your (occasionally idiot) buddies at the bar.” feel.

Am I missing anything? Please leave a comment or tweet me @jpbutler with more suggestions.

Serendeputy 2 Update, July edition

July 16th, 2014

Happy July, everyone!

I’m making progress, but I’ve been mostly heads-down with client work the last few weeks.

The biggest change is that I’m moving from database-driven querying to search-engine-driven querying. I set up the alpha version using Postgres and hstore, and ran some tests to see where it would fall over. It turns out that it falls over at smaller load levels than I’d like.

I’m glad I ran that set of experiments when it was just me and a couple of folks playing with it, instead of in front of the whole world.

So, I’m implementing a version using Amazon CloudSearch for some of the heavy indexing lifting. Depending on how things work out, I should be able to see if this will carry me through by the middle of August. Then, I can fire everything up again and see where the new constraint in the system will live.

It’s also giving me a good chance to go back and refactor a few of the pieces that I didn’t get right the first time. I need to tear everything down anyway, I might as well fix the other stuff while I have the tools out.

I’m hoping for beta one at some point between now and eventually. It’s not quite turning into Project Xanadu, but I worry that we’re trending that way.

Thrill-seekers prepare

May 8th, 2014

Quick update: the alpha is close to the point where it will be available for thrill-seekers to test drive. Please ping me if you want an invite.

Progress continues.

Serendeputy 2 update for March

March 11th, 2014

I’m making good progress on this (increasingly) large project.

The production environment is sketched and spiked, using Amazon Web Services. I think I’ve solved the SSL issues with a combination of CloudFlare and elastic load balancer.

The crawler is up and running — I’d even say reasonably solid. It’s well-behaved, working with robots.txt files and following all the crawler best practices. Once it’s running on the AWS servers, I’ll get a better idea for how many sites just block traffic from the Amazon IPs on general principles. I have a feeling that I’ll be paying for other people’s sins.

The personalization math is done and the code is prototyped. As I’m using it, I’m tweaking the coefficients for the gestures to balance how much they can influence the profiles.

The front end is not egregiously ugly! No one would ever claim that I’m a designer, but I’m going to have that alpha in front of people to get feedback, and then bring in a real design person/team/agency for the beta version.

March is going to be an insane month in pretty much every corner of my life, but I’m still hoping to have an alpha version that I (and maybe you!) can use in the beginning of April.

Serendeputy 2 update for February

February 1st, 2014

I’m still working diligently towards my rock-solid deadline of “Launch this thing at some point in the indeterminate future.”

I finished the gesture engine this week. Now that that’s solid, I’m spending most of my time over the next month working on the profile balancer and its complement, the homepage builder.

I’m looking at these like a chef composing a recipe: how can I balance the flavors just right? I’m working to strike the balance among recency, relevance (how it maps to your interest profile), and reputation (how important the page is on the worldwide Internet).

My AWS infrastructure is set up, and I’m running parts of the application on it right now. Making progress.

I should be able to get into alpha Real. Soon. Now. (I’m shooting for by Opening Day, but we’ll see…)

Thanks for staying tuned.

The lives of junior investment bankers

January 15th, 2014

It's always fun to get a peek into other professionals' working lives. Here is the Epicurean Dealmaker on why junior bankers lives are as they are.

[T]his massively inefficient workflow arises organically out of the nature of the work we do. Typically, a junior banker will roll into work relatively late because she was at work until midnight, one, or two o’clock the previous night finishing the corrections or first draft of a presentation or model which a senior banker dumped on her desk before he went home and demanded be put on his chair overnight for when he arrived in the morning. It will often take several hours, if not all day, for the senior banker to review the changes and give them back (for why, see infra), so the junior banker will fill her morning with odds and ends of other projects or deals she is working on plus the inevitable conference calls with clients and internal meetings on live and prospective deals.

Still Alive

January 13th, 2014

Hi everyone!

I am, in fact, still alive — not that you'd know it from my writing here. I've been heads-down on the next version of my news engine, which is scheduled to launch at some point Real. Soon. Now.

My "linky goodness" posts that used to live here are now mostly going through my account on Twitter. You can follow them (in nicely consolidated form) here on TweetDeputy. It's a quick way to keep up with what I'm finding interesting on the web.

More soon…

Serendeputy 2 notes

September 5th, 2013

The children go back to school tomorrow, and the transition from Dad-mode to launch-mode begins.

After I took a week or two off to adjust to an abrupt transition, this has been an insanely productive summer. (Obviously not the “writing the blog” front, though.) I’m in the middle of rewriting Serendeputy, my personal news application, from the ground up, and I’m pretty excited by the direction it’s taken. A lot has changed since I wrote the first version in 2008-2009, and it’s been so much fun to be able to update it to match the world we’re in now.

It’s currently in private “pre-alpha” i.e., running on my laptop. I should have a thrill-seeker version available for early testing by the end of September. If you’re interested in playing with it, please drop me a line.

Tech notes for those who are interested in that sort of stuff:

  • It’s still a Rails (4.0) front end, but that’s almost entirely a thin wrapper over a series of services.
  • I’m playing with Clojure for the personalization engine. I’ve written the original logic in Ruby to make sure it works; I’m going to see if I can port it over to Clojure to get a performance and memory boost.
  • I’m pretty much all in on AWS. Serendeputy currently runs on a few Rackspace (formerly Slicehost) servers; the new version is entirely AWS-based.
  • I’m about to fire up RubyMotion to write the iOS client. I’d really rather have a native client, and I’m hoping that my using a Ruby-based environment can make that happen. If it works, then I should be able to contract out an Android version. If not, then I’ll fall back to the mobile-optimized site through the browser.

Occupation update

July 1st, 2013

My whole team was laid off at the end of last week. So, I have lots of unexpected free time on my hands! If you know anyone who can benefit from my skills, please send them along. Here’s my LinkedIn profile.

In the meantime, I’m going to work on building the next version of Serendeputy (potentially with a shorter name) and getting up to speed on a couple of new technologies. It’s as good a time as any to write the iOS front-end.

Carry on.

Senior well-being assessments

April 22nd, 2013

We just launched a new product called Care Assure.

The idea is that we can provide an friendly, objective assessment of your senior to let you both know how she’s doing. I think this will be useful, because an expert can spot potential issues before they become real problems.

Please check it out and let me know if you think it would be useful. (Or, buy it if you need it now!).

Sadie, algebra and Dragon Box

April 14th, 2013

It’s times like these when I’m excited to be living in the future.

I learned algebra in seventh grade, from Mrs. Doyle if I remember correctly. That seemed appropriate; even while not starting until the seventh grade, I was probably among the first 20% of Holliston’s class of ’90 to learn algebra. It was hard, but I figured it out, eventually moving on to geometry, trig and calculus.

Sadie is in first grade.

I got her the Dragon Box game for the iPad after hearing about it from Leo Laporte on one of his podcasts.

We played it together in the beginning, but eventually she just started playing it by herself, eventually making it all the way through and beating the game.

In the beginning, it was matching various pictures. By the end, it was factoring out common elements and solving for x as you can see in this picture.

I’m proud of her, because I think this is actually pretty impressive for a first grader. (humble brag).

I’m more interested in what other forms of self-directed learning are now possible for her. If you have any suggestions for similar types of experiences, please email them to me or send them along on Twitter.

I can only imagine what college will be like for her in 11 years.

Another launch. More progress.

April 9th, 2013

Yes, I realize I’ve been a little light on the posting ’round these parts lately. (And don’t even talk to me about the state of 39 Essays. That’s turning into the project of a decade, not a year.)

Anyway, part of the reason I’ve been dark is because we’ve been working towards another launch, one that went out the door this morning.

Potentially most interesting in this release is that we’re incorporating expert senior-living advice from some of the top experts in Massachusetts (and eventually around the country). And no, I’m not just rewriting Abuzz.

Onward.

Opening Day, 2013

April 1st, 2013

Well, for the first time since 2000, I do not have season tickets to the Red Sox.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been lucky to get to five of our games over the course of a season. I blame the children.

Last year’s team was unlovable. I hope this year’s team is more charming, and I look forward to summer nights on the porch with the radio going.

Maybe this is the year.

An outstanding book on caring for aging parents

February 24th, 2013

I’ve been doing a lot of reading to get up to speed in my role at Compass Aging.

By far the best book I’ve read is A Bittersweet Season by Jane Gross, the original editor of the New York Times’ New Old Age blog. It combines a memoir of her time caring for her mother with a journalistic review of the industry and the challenges elders and their children must endure.

If you are older than 30 or have loved ones north of 60, you should read this book. You’ll thank me later.

Blizzard 2013

February 10th, 2013

We had a little over two feet of snow here in Concord during the great Blizzard of 2013. At least it happened at the beginning of the weekend.

Six hours of shoveling yesterday, in which I got almost the entire driveway done. Probably another six hours today to do the end of the driveway (where the plows dump all the snow from the busy street we’re on), the mailbox across the street so the mailman can get to it, my mother-in-law’s car, the path to the oil tank and the path to the front door. Oy.

At least I got a couple of good pictures out of it. Here’s what it looked like when I opened the garage door to get started.

Sadie and Lucy liked going out in the snow. Lucy made sure to enforce the “If I go out and play in the snow, then I get hot chocolate” rules.

With any luck, I’ll be done shoveling by dinnertime tonight, just in time to get ready to go to work tomorrow.

Vegetables for the summer…

February 3rd, 2013

I just sent out the check to First Root Farm, our CSA here in Concord. I’m looking forward to the fresh vegetables all summer! If you haven’t thought about a CSA before, you should check out Practically Green’s action on how to join a CSA.

I’m still trying to stay pretty green. If you haven’t seen it, you should check out my essay on how going green is not that hard from early last year.